Sandra spies on the Women’s Liberation Front

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, UCPI, led by retired judge Sir John Mitting, has through the evidence put online inadvertently begun an archive on the Women’s Liberation Front, one of the infiltrated groups target for undercover police operations that also supplied British internal security agency MI5 with information. [i]

These previously secret police reports provide a partial account of the activities of the spied upon group, that could supplement other sources and accounts (such as leading member Diane Langford[ii] ) and as the spy in the midst reported:

“The WLF produced their own literature. I think it [“Women’s Liberation”] was printed at a bookshop that had a printing press, although I never visited it myself. It may have been “Banner Books”.“

The Women’s Liberation Front, was a small London-based feminist group with Maoist leanings. its meetings hosted at one of the member’s homes. Its leading members were closely associated with the Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist League under the leadership of Abhimanyu Manchanda, previously known for activities in the British-Vietnam Solidarity Front, and subject to a separate undercover assignment.[iii]

Reports were file by an undisclosed Undercover Police officer given the designation HN 348, and active in the early 1970s.[iv]  While no full cover name is known, now in her 70s, she recalled using the cover name ‘Sandra’, and having seen some documents listing members of the Women’s Liberation Front that name ‘Sandra Davies’, she conceded this may well have been her. The evidence seems conclusive, yet she still wouldn’t completely confirm it was her.

She said it was “made clear that my role was just to observe and report back.” [v]

As part of her undercover profile, HN348 Sandra, established a cover address (a shared house in Paddington to which she went only occasionally) and pretended to be a Goldsmiths student.

Assessing her work infiltrating women’s rights groups in the 1970s, she does not believe her undercover work was worthwhile.

 “I stand by what I say – I could have been doing much more worthwhile things with my time than my work with the SDS.”

Some of those sceptical and critical of the undercover police deployment would agree with her:

“she appeared to have had about as minor a deployment as is possible for a spycop – long ago, not for long, deployed into one group that doesn’t appear to have warranted spying on even by the police’s standards.

As it turned out, this was the point; her testimony demonstrated the lack of guidance given to officers, and the seemingly total absence of any consideration of the impact of this intrusion on the lives of those targeted.”  [vi]

Indeed, that ’Sandra Davies’ was a full-time spy on them for near-on two years, producing no intelligence of any value demonstrated the generalised, hoover-up approach to information gathering, checking on people who pose no threat. The group had come to public attention for its role in the disruption of the Miss World event live on television in November 1970 – a year before Sandra HN348 joined it.

Sandra Davies’ own statement says the activists she spied on were not breaking any laws, just hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrating – ‘all within the bounds of the law’ – and that she did not witness or participate in any public disorder during her entire deployment. So what was the point?

‘I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them’

The inquiry heard how women’s groups including Women’s Voice, Greenham Common, Spare Rib collective, Brixton Black Women’s movement and others were infiltrated – leading Philippa Kaufmann QC to ask “what possible justification could there be for infiltrating such organisations other than a deep hostility to women’s equality?”

In another report from November 18, 1969, officer HN336 filed, the subject of concern was a postgraduate who had begun “involving herself to some considerable extent” with the Tufnell Park Women’s Liberation Front.

“Aged about 23 years, height 5 foot 2 inches; long dark brown hair; oval face, attractive features; sometimes wears a fawn woollen dress, brown knee-length boots and a brown herring-bone patterned overcoat. It is understood she had just completed a degree course at [redacted] University.” [vii]

Sandra HN336’s target, the Women’s Liberation Front, which later became known as the Revolutionary Women’s Union [viii], campaigned for equal pay, access to contraception and paid maternity leave. The undercover officer, Sandra, claimed the group was of interest to Special Branch because of possible links with “more extreme groups” such as the Angry Brigade and “Irish extremists.”

The monitoring group ‘Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance’ noted in relation to

IRISH CONNECTIONS

The Inquiry was shown a report [UCPI0000026992] of a WLF study group on 11 March 1971, comprising of seven people meeting in someone’s home.

Davies reported that one woman present praised the recent actions of the IRA, which she described as ‘a good way to start a revolution’. She’d put the words in quote marks.

We should note that, at this time, the IRA was only attacking British military targets in Northern Ireland. It is extraordinary that this comment on current affairs, made in a private home with no intent for action of any kind, was deemed worthy of reporting and filing by Britain’s political secret police. So much for ‘you are free to express your opinions’.

There seemed to be little else in the way of Davies reporting on the Irish situation she’d suggested as one of her true targets.” [ix]

There was a pattern of weekly WLF meetings held in the evenings at people’s private homes. They were mostly study groups, reading political texts and discussing them. Some of Sandra Davies’s reports were on meetings of the six person WLF Executive Committee. Women’s Liberation Front AGM minutes 1972, records spycop ‘Sandra Davies’ elected as treasurer.

Reports were filed on a talk by Leila Hassan from the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP), ‘general discussion’ of a ‘The East is Red’ –described as a ‘Chinese Revolutionary film’, meeting of the Friends of China, and document UCPI0000027026 was a report of a WLF meeting, dated 8 December 1971. The speaker had returned from a trip to China and ‘was clearly very impressed by the Chinese system’. This developed into a group discussion about all aspects of everyday life in China, including the use of acupuncture.

Other topics of reports to Special Branch were on the Black Unity and Freedom Party asking the WLF to contribute home-made sweets and cakes to a children’s Christmas party in 1971, a jumble sale being organised by the WLF, and idle personal gossip about individual circumstances or relationships. There were reports on a school strike organised by the Schools Action Union in May 1972, running to 13 separate numbered paragraphs of intelligence – with a lot of detail. It named several of the children who’d been arrested.

Tom Ford noted, Sandra’s report included the “subversive” activity of wanting better child-care:

“Members would also be visiting Chapel Street Market each Saturday and Sunday, 840 signatures had been collected. It was hoped eventually to deliver the petition to Islington council with a demand for a nursery in the area.”

A copy of the petition, included in the police report, said: “We demand that day nurseries be set up wherever there is a need. They should be cheap, open all year round and staff should be fully trained and well paid.”

Sandra HN348 did not see any of the WLF members she spied on acting violently or committing crimes. Instead the purpose of spying on the group was to know whether it was “worthwhile” to infiltrate it, she said. She described the group as vocal but aspirational only and taking part in demonstrations with placards and banners. Its membership was “No more than 12” was her count.

One of the meetings HN348 Sandra spied on that concerned the possibility of setting up a national movement of socialist women was only attended by two activists. She reported that attendees of one such meeting in Guildford, Surrey, in June 1972 were “a group of fairly moderate women with no particular political motivation who have recently been campaigning for nurseries in the Guildford area”.

It is not surprising that her own assessment of her deployment was, “I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, she said in self-defence in her written evidence, “but I eliminated the WLF from public-order concerns,” [x]

Diane Langford, who is named in relation to various reports on the WLF, raised the issue of homophobic, sexist and racist language in reports from the SDS, which included “racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and judgemental descriptions of people’s appearances that fill police officer’s notebooks”.

Diane Langford told the inquiry how “discovering the groups I was involved in and the Women’s Liberation Movement as a whole were secretly surveilled has been a traumatising experience”.

She explained how it was “harrowing to find out about the pernicious attitudes of officers, masquerading as comrades and friends and sisters, who inveigled their way into our homes, meetings, families and lives” and that “the betrayal of trust is unforgivable”.

Describing the intrusion, Langford noted how the SDS “hoovered-up our data”, with reports providing individuals’ names, ages, physical appearance, family relationships, social security status – “even a sample of a woman’s handwriting”. [xi]

She told the inquiry how in the reports “we find the work of people working in good faith in the hope of creating a future free of oppression, distorted by the grubby lens of officers who cannot understand what they are spying on”.

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Sandra’s testimony to the Inquiry, on events of 50 years previous, stated, [xii]

“the women’s movement was really growing. The Angry Brigade were linked to the women’s movement and so were lots of other left-wing extremist groups that were latching onto it. This was before the Equal Pay Act 1970 had come into force. There were certain jobs even then where you had to leave when you got married. I did not understand the logic of that: it seemed unfair. Even in the police service, women had the same powers as men but I was only paid 90% of what the men were paid. I was interested in women’s issues, such as contraception and nurseries. I was genuinely interested when those topics were discussed in the bigger meetings, but not the extremist activities.”  

 “The activities the groups I infiltrated were involved in were hosting meetings, leafleting and demonstrations. They were all within the bounds of the law. The political ideology they were promoting did not spill over into what they were doing. They were just very vocal. Of course. the MPS were concerned about whether it would spill over. The Irish situation was very bad at the time and there were links between Ireland and some of the groups we were infiltrating.”

I considered one of the main aims of the SDS to gather intelligence to draw links between different groups and individuals.

Reported on what the WLF were saying and the literature they were distributing, focused on what they were going to do. I would also pick up leaflets and report on the Chinese revolutionary films that were shown.

I simply reported the location of any meetings, the numbers at that meeting, the start and finish times, and what was discussed. I reported any future plans and the likely numbers if there was a demonstration. For example, I reported that “a rally would commence at 1 pm in Trafalgar Square and four RWU members would attend” in the Special Report dated 28 September 1972 (Doc 7, Tab 56 UCPI0000011758.) which would help with police preparation.

“At the time, I felt quite detached from the activists and that I was not in any particular danger, especially at the public meetings which were open to anyone. But it was always in the back of my mind that someone would point a finger at me and accuse me of being a UCO, which would have been embarrassing at the least.”

Frequently when asked about specific reports, Sandra’s standard reply was “I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included”.

“I have seen the Special Report dated 22 January 1971 written by HN45 (Doc 9, UCPI0000011740) I note that, at paragraph 3, HN45 states the meeting was to plan activities for the WLF, British Vietnam Solidarity Front and Friends of China. This makes it look like a much bigger movement, but there were only fourteen people present at that meeting and very often these groups had an overlap of the same people. I note also that, at paragraph 5, he refers to the start of a new branch of the WLF in North London being run by <retracted> and <retracted> I was not aware that intelligence from HN45 prompted my recruitment to join this group, although this possibly could have happened.

I agree that the WLF/RWU was revolutionary in terms of their Maoist ideology, which was opposed to democratic values. The way they talked suggested they would have liked to have overthrown Parliamentary democracy, but “overthrow” is a huge word and this was a small group, so it was not something that they could have done in reality. I was not even aware of the WLF being involved in any criminal activity apart from putting up posters (if that would be considered criminal) and there is no record in the reports of any WLF member committing any act of public disorder or being arrested at any demonstrations.

I did not say much at these meetings. This did not arouse suspicion as many of them were very vocal and glad to have a passive ear sitting there listening to them.

The WLF was much more talk than action. I was tasked to observe them because Special Branch did not know much about them and wanted to find out what was really happening.

Her judgement was that the Police “did not really know very much about the smaller groups and wanted to know more to see if they were of significance to state security or any real threat to our democracy. It was not until the SDS got involved that we knew if it was worthwhile to infiltrate a group. I do not think my work really yielded any good intelligence, but I eliminated the WLF from public order concerns.”

I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know the sums of contributions being made by members present at the meeting held on 25 November 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 1 December 1971 (Doc 1 7, UCPI0000010923 1). I have found this document very difficult to read as it is of poor quality. It is not clear to me what the contributions related to except that they may have been to cover running costs for a Centre in Leamington Spa. It may have been for the Nurseries Campaign, which is mentioned a few lines above. The availability of free nurseries in the community and attached to places of work was a key issue for the women’s liberation movement at that time. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. As far as I recall, my reports covered as much as was necessary so my senior officers and others could understand the tone of the meeting and the types of things they were discussing. The activists were talking about nurseries at the larger meetings as well, so it was a prominent issue and relevant to the right for women to work as the nurseries would support that right.

 I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that some of the group would be making homemade sweets and cakes for the Children’s Christmas Party on 18 December 1971, as stated in the Special Report dated 13 December 1971 (Doc 18, UCPI0000010932 I). I note that paragraph 5 of that report states that the Children’s Christmas Party was being run by the Black Unity and Freedom Party (“BUFP”), who had asked the WLF members for contributions. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But as stated above, I think some of the main things the senior officers were interested in were the links between groups. With this in mind, the information might have been included to support the link between the BUFP and the WLF.

This report also refers to an Irish woman coming from Dublin at a time of troubles in Northern Ireland and being arrested for her links to the Angry Brigade. I knew very little about the Angry Brigade, even at the time, except that alarm bells rang if they were mentioned as they were very active and had links with the IRA. The report states that this information had come from <<retracted>>   via <<retracted>>  I do not recall the connection between  <<retracted>>   <<retracted>>  . or <<retracted>>   and the Angry Brigade. I assume it was mentioned in the hope that somebody would have been able to make a connection somewhere along the line. This is another example of how the reporting could attempt to draw links between these people. In the 1970s, direct action in Ireland was affecting so many people’s lives.

I have been asked why I thought Special Branch needed to know that one of the members had been accused of having an affair with the husband of another member, as stated in the Special Report dated 4 January 1972 (Doc 14). The report refers to this accusation being made by <<retracted>>  “of Banner Books” and prompted <<retracted>>   to end her employment at that bookshop. I do not specifically recall writing this report and so I cannot fully explain why this information is included. But I recall that this bookshop was quite significant: there was another Maoist group involved with them and they had a printing press there. I do not recall if they were printing “Women’s Liberation” at Banner Books, but they may have been. This information once again shows the links between organisations, in this case the breakdown in the relationship between the WLF and Banner Books. It also gives a flavour of the meetings and the level of things that were discussed. The accusation of an affair would also have been a potentially major event in the history of the WLF. The Maoist philosophy is quite purist and they would frown upon things such as affairs. In Maoist China, they even had a lot of strict rules about their style of dress and how they presented themselves because the clothes they wore depended on their status.

I have been asked about reports recording meetings in the homes of private individuals. The WLF meetings I attended were often in the homes of <<retracted>>  I was just invited to the meetings, I told my senior officers, and there was no suggestion that I should not attend because the meetings were held in people’s homes.

An event like a jumble sale might reveal links between different people and different groups that attended, all under the auspices of a fundraising sale. It was something the WLF was doing, as opposed to ideology and rhetoric, which I would not have recorded. This report would put a flag in the diary on that date so someone could be directed to attend. I cannot recall the sale itself, but it might have been something I attended.

My recollection is that the Marxists hated the Trotskyists and the Trotskyists hated the Marxists, but everyone hated the Maoists.

ENDNOTES


[i] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/infiltrated_group/womens-liberation-front/

[ii] a more rounded political memoir of the WLF comes in ‘The Manchanda Connection’
by Diane Langford, Manu’s partner from 1968 till 1982.

http://abhimanyumanchandaremembered.weebly.com/the-manchanda-connection.html

Also see her Opening Statement to the Undercover Policing Inquiry at

https://dianelangford.wordpress.com/author/dianelangford/

[iii] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/index.htm#bvsf

[iv] https://powerbase.info/index.php/HN348

[v] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

[vi] http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2020/11/19/ucpi-daily-report-18-nov-2020/

[vii] Tom Ford, Revolutionaries? Undercover cops spied on mums calling for better day care. Islington Tribune November 20, 2020

[viii]  The Women’s Liberation Front held their AGM on 6 February 1972. They agreed to adopt a new constitution (that meant only women could be members) and new aims and a change of name, The Revolutionary Women’s Union.

Its new list of aims said it sought:

  • ‘To organise women in general, working class women in particular, to fight for the elimination of all exploitation and oppression and for a socialist society.
  • ‘To expose the oppression suffered by women and to relate this to capitalist society and to oppose those who confuse the effects of women’s oppression for the real cause, ie the private ownership of the means of production.’

The group wanted to achieve these things as a path towards things that sound largely moderate and desirable to modern ears:

  • To demand equal opportunities in employment and education.
  • To fight for equal pay for work of equal value.
  • In order that women have real opportunities to take part in social production, we demand that crèches and nurseries are installed at the place of work, education and in the community, wherever there is a need.
  • All women should have the right to have children or not. In order to make this right effective, alongside child-care facilities, adequate contraceptive and abortion information and facilities should be made available free on the NHS.
  • To demand maternity leave for a definite period with no loss of pay, in the pre-natal and post-natal periods, and the right to return to the same job, guaranteed by law.
  • To fight against all discrimination and injustice suffered by women in all realms of society, in laws as regards marriage and divorce, in the superstructure; customs and culture.
  • To fight against the discrimination suffered by unmarried mothers and their children.
  • To wage a consistent struggle against male chauvinism and to strive to educate and encourage men to participate in all our activities.
  • To take our full part in the struggles against the growing attacks on our standard of living and our democratic rights and against the growing racism and fascist policies of the ruling class.
  • To mobilise women to support the anti-imperialist struggles of all oppressed peoples for the realisation of our common aim, the ending of the system of exploitation and oppression.’

 [ix] http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2020/11/19/ucpi-daily-report-18-nov-2020/

[x] https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

[xi] Sian Norris, ‘A Deep Hostility to Women’s Equality’ More Accusations of Police Misogyny in the Spy Cops Inquiry. April 23rd 2021

[xii] Scoured out from https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/MPS-0741698.pdf

Spying on the CPEml

Infiltration by the state in the workers’ movement has a long pedigree, and within living memory there are numerous examples of the surveillance, manipulation and disruption of independent political organising that challenges the status quo regardless of its political allegiance. The flowering of protest in the late 1960s and 70s in Britain saw a vibrant and varied opposition that attracted the concealed attention of state agents. One element of the security apparatus, Special Branch, has had the lens focused upon its practices when spying on the Left, including the newly emergent forces of the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists in Sixties’ Britain through infiltration by field officers.  The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was a covert unit under Special Branch supervision that existed within the Metropolitan Police Service between 1968 and 2008.  So far the cover names of 45 out of a total of at least 144 undercover officers have been disclosed during the official Undercover Policing Inquiry.  The tale of one anonymous clandestine spy, assigned the designation HN13, is an incomplete record through reports submitted on the marginal Far Left Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist). [i]

DC HN13 was an experienced office. He joined the Police Force in the late1960s and the Branch in the early1970s, then approached in 1974 to join the Special Demonstration Squad. Married with young children, there were no disclosures of improprieties involving, as with other undercover SDS field officers, seducing and fathering children of targeted activists. Prior to his deployment the CPEml had a name for headlong rushes into confrontations; whether Barry/ Desmond Loader was acting as ‘agent provocateurs’ is unknown however he was twice prosecuted for public order offences in his false cover name and convicted once. Despite this, the Undercover Policing Inquiry   Chair, John Mitting, stated that there is no known allegation of misconduct during the deployment.

 His widow confirmed in a very brief statement that he stole his cover surname from a deceased child from Wiltshire, and that he had told her of the surname during his deployment into the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) from 1975 to 1978. [ii]

Active in the East London Branch, Loader was also an active member of the Party’s cultural activities offshoot, the Progressive Cultural Association (PCA), and the East London Peoples Front, and the Outer East London Anti-Fascist Anti-Racist Committee. DC HN13’s reports provide a flavour of the activity and demands placed upon the activists of the CPEml in the period he was spying on them. Evidence of hype-activism that brunt out cadre evident in the singular account of attending a social, going back afterwards for a meeting that lasts into the early hours of next morning and then volunteering to provide the materials for a morning leafletting session!

He also filed reports on the activities of the Communist Unity Association (Marxist-Leninist).

Pictured below PCA leader, and CPEml Central Committee member , the composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981).

Confrontations with the Police

In the 1970s, members of the CPE had a reputation for rushing at police lines in demonstrations, seemingly without strategic consideration, that served to raise the group’s profile in relation to the police – and the CPEml became a target for Special Branch.

Party comrades who were leafleting were ‘brutally attacked’ whilst by the police at a demonstration in East Street market in South East London in 1972. Several received prison sentences.

The CPEml placed the confrontations and violence within an environment of a decaying capitalism:

Whilst increasing fascist legislation, the monopoly capitalists are also stepping up their harassment of working people and progressive organisations. In the last couple of years, large numbers of progressive people have been harassed, intimidated and attacked by the British police. Last December, some supporters of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) were attacked by the London police and planted with drugs, ammunition, explosives and have been committed to trial at the Old Bailey on concocted charges. Comrade Lindsay Hutchinson, an active supporter of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), is at present serving a five year sentence on concocted charges of “malicious wounding” and “assault”. Many other progressive people and Irish patriots living in England have been given jail sentences of up to 30 years on concocted charges. Many workers pickets have been fascistically attacked by the police who encourage strike breakers to break the picket lines and attack striking workers: and working people have been murdered by the police. Is this not violence and terror of the highest order? [iii]

Following a police raid on a ‘house used by comrades and fabricated evidence’, in January 1974, four members of the party were found guilty of possession of petrol bombs and assaulting police. They received 12-month sentences for possession of petrol bombs and were fined for assaulting police.

Also in 1973/74, several party members were arrested for the (again, fabricated) charge of the theft of roof lead, after their car was stopped on Queens Town Road, Battersea.

Given the confrontational experience of members that saw members arrested (and identified) it comes as no surprise that Barry Loader’s reports are peppered with references on proposals by the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) to launch a campaign on behalf of its members on bail for offences arising from various demonstrations, and to organise pickets outside courts such as Redbridge Magistrates’ Court. This defence of democratic rights campaigning prove both time-consuming and energy sapping, with ramifications on the lives of members. Commenting in July 1978 on arrests at an Irish demonstration in Birmingham the previous May, Loader reported CPEml policy was that “although imprisonment is to be seen as a means of taking the political line into prisons, leading members should remain free to carry on their function within the Party.” Adding, “It is also likely that the cost of her appeal will be met from Central Party funds.”

No Platform and Anti-Fascism

In the 1970s across higher education campuses, students launched a number of protests at right-wing and fascist speakers. These incidents in the early 1970s were a ‘prelude’ to what became known as ‘No Platforming’ such speakers.

One well-publicised incident allegedly involved student members of the CPE from Birmingham and elsewhere:

On 8 May 1973, the psychologist Hans Eysenck, whose theories were rooted in the controversial theory of eugenics, attempted to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, but faced heavy protests from students. A group of Maoists stormed the stage and assaulted Eysenck.

The CPE (M-L) was also vocal and active in broader anti-fascist politics during the 1970s and early 1980s at a time when National Front was a rising force on the street and sometimes at the ballot box. During this time the NF was successfully challenged on the street by a variety of anti-fascist groups.

In 1974, the CPEml were also present at the Red Lion Square counter-fascist demo during clashes between anti-fascists and the police took place. During this violent confrontation, one protester Kevin Gately received severe head injuries from which he died. Members of the party also gave evidence at the subsequent public inquiry into the incident – which was chaired by Lord Scarman.

Loader reported on people involved in actions against the National Front (NF), such as the organisation of demonstrations, pickets, and leafletting and confronting the NF directly. Barry Loader attended the counter-NF demonstration, the Battle of Lewisham on 13 August 1977. He was injured during the event, receiving a blow to the head – the first of the two times he was assaulted by uniformed police.

Internal Special Branch documents show that Loader met to share his experience and provide recommendations for methods of policing future demonstrations with Deputy Assistant Commissioner along with Peter Collins (HN303), DCI Pryde and DI Willingale following the Lewisham demonstration. [iv]

ARRESTED TWICE & ‘BATTERED’ BY POLICE AGAIN

Loader was arrested twice while in his cover identity. The first occasion, in late 1977, was for ‘insulting or threatening behaviour’ following a clash with the NF outside Barking police station. Chief Inspector Craft of the SDS recorded that Loader was ‘somewhat battered by police prior to his arrest’ [v]

Seven other individuals from Loader’s group were also arrested. Superintendent Pryde maintained contact with a court official during the proceedings in April 1978. He informed them that one of the defendants was a police informant who they would be ‘anxious to safeguard from any prison sentence’ [vi]

Ultimately, the charges against Loader were dismissed. Three of the other seven individuals were found guilty and fined on 12 April 1978 [vii]

SECOND ARREST

Just three days after his court appearance, Loader was arrested a second time during trouble at a National Front meeting held at Loughborough School, Brixton on 15 April 1978.

He was again charged with threatening behaviour under s.5 of the Public Order Act 1936, along with three others [viii]

At the hearing, an application was made to hear all the defendants’ cases together. However, the Magistrates decided to hear Loader’s case alone. This was, allegedly, because Loader had been involved in a separate incident to the other defendants, who had infiltrated an NF meeting while Loader stayed outside.

In fact, records reveal that Superintendent Pryde established contact with a court official during the proceedings and told them that one of the defendants was:

a valuable informant in the public order field whom we would wish to safeguard from a prison sentence should the occasion arise’.

Unlike the previous arrest, however, it is noted that Loader’s cover name was specifically given to the official [ix]

All the defendants, in this case, were found guilty, with Loader being fined and given a one-year bind-over of £100. It is noted in the Minute Sheet that this sentence was considered ‘very useful’ as it would allow Loader to keep a low profile for the remainder of his deployment [x]

It was not all confrontations on days out in the CPEml. Other activities included in loader’s reports map out the activists’ busy schedule of meetings and commitments. From supplying accounts of private meetings of the East London Branch of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) held at Barking Polytechnic, various  planning meetings to small social gatherings, the files of Special Branch were filled with minutiae of undercover intelligence gathering, including the gossip about individuals from CPEml and Indian Workers Movement living together thought worthy of inclusion in Special Branch’s intelligence files, along with reports on individual “comrades”, an active member of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) who failed to attend court on charges of assault, and his efforts to avoid arrest moving to Canada and changing his name. Loader providing a description of his current appearance for the files.

A National Conference of the CPE(ML) on the anniversary of the October Revolution to be held in Birmingham at the YMCA, late October 1977 drew the attention of SDS coordinating with West Midlands Special Branch even though they acknowledged, “There is no public order issue involved”. Photographic surveillance was arranged, it was “hoped that a good identification of national membership and information on the future policies of the C.P.E. -M.L. will result.” [xi]

The attendance was estimated at around 200 and included SDS Field Officer, HN 13 “Desmond /Barry Loader” who was well-practiced on reporting on the CPE (ML).

Among the SDS reports put into the public domain when released by the Public Inquiry included those on open public events, of both the CPEml and its associated organisations (like the Progressive Cultural Association, PCA) when Loader took the opportunity to purloined the contact sheet from PCA events and names were cross referenced with existing Special Branch files [xii]

There were also internal PCA evening meetings, such as that held 15th May 1977 in Belsize Park NW3 attended by 30. Others covered a meeting of the Progressive Cultural Association to discuss its activities in a proposed anti-monarchy campaign.

In July 1977  a report submitted on a meeting of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) held under the broad front-group name of Outer East London Anti-Fascist Anti-Racist with Indian Defence Committee in Ilford. When that faltered CPEml broad front activities were consolidated in a new organisation, entitled the People’s Front.

By February 1978 Loader reported the CPEml was engaged in a “rigorous self-examination” with the leadership conscious of drift within the organisation.

 The previous Christmas 1977, as an “alternative to the feudal, bourgeois Christian festival”, a national meeting of CPEml had been arranged December 23rd to January 1st. (A not uncommon gesture as another group arranged a Standing Committee meeting for Christmas Day morning!).

Some 60 persons were present in Birmingham (referred to as new centre of CPEml). However, the context of the systematic shift in political allegiance and political identification with the positions of the Party of Labour of Albania are missing from the Special Branch reports. Its historic First Congress was held in 1978. [xiii]

Much of the main address given by Carol Reakes was published as an extract in issue 63 of Workers Weekly. At the previous October 1977 Birmingham conference on Trostskyism, she told members that what was needed was “considerable improvements needed” in the regularly, distribution and study of the paper, Workers’ Weekly. A familiar exhortation on the Left.

 The emphasis on building an industrial base, the organisation of the masses around one party (them), developing a leading role in the anti-fascist/anti-racist struggle and the ‘Bolshevization’ of the CPEml especially in relation to its internal discipline. All these themes occurred at this time across the spectrum of anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist groups in Britain. In London the CPEml’s emphasis was Ford’s at Dagenham.  The more industrially established Communist Party of Britain (ML) was identified as the organisation’s main Left opponent in this period.

What was announced was the formation of the ‘Little Red Guards’, despite the misgivings of a minority, Barry Loader reported to Special Branch that “their inaugural ceremony involved the receiving of a red scarf (to be worn when meeting) an address from Carol REAKES on the significance of their role and the singing of revolutionary children’s songs”. Some 12 children are “believed to be involved” age range 4-10 years.  They will meet on a Saturday “to be given a ‘low key’ political talk in the morning on basic issues, such as evolution and the history of labour in the morning, and in the afternoon taken on an outing to places of interests, such as the docks or a ferry crossing.”

January 1978 saw a joint Indian Workers Movement/CPEml East London branch meeting to “denounce the sham of India’s Republic Day” (January 28th), and after the mobilisation for the “Bloody Sunday Commemoration march, an evening concert organised by PCA at the Trinity Community Centre, East Avenue E12 under the slogan “British Imperialism Out of Ireland!”

Commensurate with significant anti-fascist activity, there was a probable fascist attack on the election headquarters of the South London People’s Front in the 1978 Lambeth Central by-election. Coincidentally, going against the documentary evidence of Barry Loader’s infiltration, the recollection of Michael Chant, the current party General Secretary, was that Loader did not appear until 1978 at election hustings in for the constituency of central Lambeth where Stuart Monro stood under ‘South London People’s Front’. Michael Chant recalled that:

“In the Lambeth Central by-election of 1978, Stuart Monro stood as a candidate representing the South London People’s Front, supported by CPE(ML). A campaign centre was set up in a private house in Stockwell, where mailing out of election leaflets, organising of canvassers, and other activities took place. It was only at this time that Barry Loader […] appeared and offered to help. Given he had no known links to any progressive activity and his general bearing, he was immediately suspected of being an undercover policeman. However, following Lenin’s dictum to put suspected spies to useful, but not compromising work, he was assigned to washing-up duties in the kitchen, large-scale cooking being required to feed the election volunteers. Loader carried out his duties diligently, but was not invited to any discussions or to participate in any planning activities. When the election period ended, he disappeared, and a visit to the address he had given revealed only an empty bed-sit.”

———————-

A post-script to Loader’s career was that a note made of a meeting with Commander Buchanan in 2013 suggests that Loader had difficulty reintegrating with the police following his deployment [xiv]

The successor party to the CPE, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) were later infiltrated by another SDS officer Malcolm Shearing (alias) between 1981 and 1985. [xv]

E N D N O T E S


[i] These notes on HN13 – known as ‘Barry’ rather than ‘Desmond’ by former CPEml members –  and his activities draws heavily from the work undertaken by  the Undercover Research Portal at Powerbase – investigating corporate and police spying on activists.

Undercover Policing Inquiry released Special branch documents in May 2021 related to the activity of HN13 cover names “Desmond Loader/Barry loader”, an active member of the Special Demonstration Squad (1975-19778) assigned to infiltrate and spy upon the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) .

Indispensable is the ongoing independent work produced by both Dónal O’Driscoll of Undercover Research Group and journalist Rob Evans on the Spycops.

[ii] Released file  MPS-0740967

[iii] Worker’s England Daily News Release, September 4, 1973 https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/real-terror.htm

[iv] Released file MPS-0732886

[v] Released file MPS-0722618

[vi] Released file MPS-0526784

[vii] Released file UCPI0000011984

[viii] Released file UCPI0000011356

[ix] Released file MPS-0526784

[x] Released file MPS-0526784

[xi] Special Branch memorandum 28th October 1977. Released file MPS-0730696

[xii] Special Branch 8th September 1977 ref:400/76/166

[xiii] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/cpe-historic.pdf

[xiv] Released file MPS-0738057

[xv] https://powerbase.info/index.php/Malcolm_Shearing_(alias)